The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Pumped storage hydro electric.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

USE MEAD AS A BATTERY?

A proposal to use Lake Mead to store energy by pumping water into it from downstream using solar power and then releasing the water through the dam’s hydropower plant to meet peak energy demands has generated excitement and controversy. This Nevada Independent article sums up the potential and the complications of implementing such a plan.

Photo via CorbittsNationalParks.co

Boulder inks deal to sell hydroelectric power to Tri-State

Small hydroelectric via City of Boulder.

From BizWest (Jensen Werley):

The city of Boulder signed a contract with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for the sale of hydroelectric power generated at five of the city’s eight hydroelectric plants.

The deal is a 10-year agreement with an option to renew for another five years. It’s expected to generate about $500,000 per year in revenue, which will offset water utility capital improvements and operating costs that would otherwise be paid through higher water rates for customers.

The city had previously sold hydroelectric power to Tri-State from the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric plant. This agreement renews the contract for Boulder Canyon and adds four facilities: the Kohler, Maxwell, Orodell and Sunshine plants…

Hydroelectric generation harnesses the energy generated during the downhill trip from water sources to the water distribution system. Boulder’s hydro program consists of eight plants that generate about 37 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power 4,600 households and displace 20,400 tons of coal.

Senior calls on the rivers, fish water in the ‘Pan — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Very low flows in the upper Colorado River system are now expected to trigger calls from senior water rights tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant and irrigators in the Grand Valley. And, starting Friday, more water is to be released from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan River to bolster downstream flows.

The Shoshone plant has two water rights, a very senior 1902 right and a less-senior right for 158 cubic feet per second with a 1929 priority date. A call for the 1929 Shoshone right is expected to take effect on Thursday, meaning those upstream from the Shoshone hydro power plant in Glenwood Canyon who hold junior rights must stop diverting.

On July 1, another, larger call is expected to happen downstream on the Colorado — the Cameo call. The Cameo call is made up of the water rights of agriculture diverters near Palisade, including the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.

The Cameo call, which is the second-most senior water right on the Colorado River, calls about 2,200 cfs down through the river system, but the diversion structures tied to the call also have the potential to nearly dry up the Colorado River in a 15-mile reach between the Palisade area and the confluence of the Gunnison River in Grand Junction. This 15-mile reach is critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Humpback Chub.

To help offset the effects of the Cameo call and other diversions on the river system, officials with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have set a low-flow target of 810 cfs this year.

And, after meeting with other regional water managers on Wednesday, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to release on Friday 50 cfs of water that has been earmarked specifically for endangered fish from Ruedi Reservoir. Another 100 cfs will be added to the bolstered flows on Monday, bringing releases to about 260 cfs in the river below Ruedi Reservoir.

While a Cameo call is not unusual and often happens in late summer, this is the earliest it has ever taken effect, according to Don Meyer, Senior Water Resources Engineer with the Colorado River District. The previous record was July 14.

“It’s a brutal year,” Meyer said. “I think it’s going to be a dire situation for everybody, but especially the fish down there.”

This year is also the second earliest that “fish water” has been released from Ruedi Reservoir since the endangered fish program was established in 1988. During the most recent drought years, 2002 and 2012, fish water was released on June 24 and July 3, respectively.

Federal officials this year expect to be able to release 16,412.5 acre-feet of fish water from Ruedi Reservoir this year, including from a 5,000 acre-foot pool, a 5,412 acre-foot-pool and 6,000 acre-feet of water owned by Ute Water Conservancy District in the reservoir, which is to be leased for the endangered fish program.

In all, the fish program has a total of 28,000 acre-feet of water it can use from various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River system, including Ruedi, Granby and Wolford reservoirs.

The Cameo call will also put more water into the Roaring Fork River by “calling out” the transmountain diversion through the Twin Lakes tunnel under Independence Pass. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company can move 625 cfs of water out of the Roaring Fork Basin to the Arkansas Basin, where it is used for East Slope municipal and irrigation purposes.

The tunnel is currently diverting around 50 cfs, but that will come to a halt when the Cameo call goes into effect.

“In one respect it’s a windfall for the Roaring Fork,” said Kevin Lusk, president of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. “It’s not good for our customers, but that’s the law. It’s just part of owning a water right on a river in Colorado. This is one of those dry years so we are not surprised to see the Cameo call come on.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Shoshone plant water rights in Glenwood Canyon eyed by Colorado River District — @AspenJournalism

Penstock blowout at Shoshone hydro plant. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

The Colorado River District is renewing its efforts at preserving a major Western Slope water right: the Shoshone hydropower plant.

But this time around, under the new leadership of general manager Andy Mueller, the district’s discussions with plant owner Xcel Energy are focusing on finding a way to maintain the water right instead of purchasing outright the plant or associated water rights.

The Shoshone plant is located on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, upstream of Glenwood Springs and the popular Shoshone boating stretch of the river.

The plant began operating in 1909, and has a senior water right dating to 1902. That water right keeps 1,250 cubic feet per second flowing down the Colorado River. That means upstream junior water rights holders must leave enough water in the river for Shoshone to receive its full decreed amount. It also means that full amount becomes available for downstream users.

Some Western Slope water managers fear that if Xcel were to sell the plant or discontinue generating power at the site, the guaranteed 1,250 cfs could be lost. It would be a major blow for Western Slope water users.

At the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s meeting in May in Glenwood Springs, Colorado River District general counsel Peter Fleming delivered a history of the Shoshone hydropower plant and an update on the efforts of the river district to preserve the flows associated with the plant.

“Simply by virtue of its very senior priority and large size, it is the controlling water right on the river upstream of Glenwood Springs,” Fleming said.

He said river district officials have met with Xcel officials about five times over the past few months to talk about ways to preserve the Shoshone water right for the Western Slope, and he anticipates additional meetings in the future.

In the past, conversations have centered around the Colorado River District potentially purchasing the hydro plant from Xcel. But those talks have shifted to ways of preserving the flow without ownership changing hands.

“A lot of it is explaining to [Xcel] why this is an important issue for the West Slope and that we are not out to interfere with their business,” Fleming said. “We don’t have any interest in operating a power plant. But maybe there’s a win-win concept out there to achieve the permanency of the Shoshone flows.”

Michelle Aguayo, Colorado media relations representative for Xcel, said in a statement the company has begun discussions with the river district, 20 West Slope water providers, and government entities about the possibility of achieving permanent management of the flow of the Colorado River so that it mimics current and historic flows.

“Although Xcel Energy is willing to talk with parties that express interest, Xcel Energy wants to reiterate that this does not signal any desire or commitment to transfer or sell any rights related to the company’s assets,” the statement reads.

Mueller said he does not view Xcel’s statement as a closing of the door and remains optimistic a solution can be found.

The Minneapolis-based energy company provides electricity and natural gas to customers in eight states, including 1.5 million people in Colorado.

Preserving flows of the Shoshone plant has long been priority for Western Slope water managers and the Colorado River District. In 2007, Xcel and Denver Water reached an agreement that during drought conditions, Xcel would “relax” Shoshone’s call on the river down to 704 cfs, cutting it roughly in half. The agreement allows Denver Water to fill its reservoirs earlier, which made some Western Slope water managers nervous.

Then came the 2012 Shoshone Outage Protocol, a 40-year agreement between Front Range and Western Slope water managers. It says that when the Shoshone plant is shut down for repairs, maintenance, or other reasons, the flows must still be maintained.

Colorado River Basin Roundtable member Chuck Ogilby said the Colorado River District should have played a bigger role in negotiating these deals and that the organization has not taken a strong enough lead in protecting the Shoshone flows.

Ogilby would like to see a group of Western Slope water managers attend an Xcel board meeting to lobby for protection of the Shoshone flows.

“It’s maddening to me,” Ogilby said. “They have missed the boat on this entire activity. … Now here we are trying to make up for their lack of engagement. We all pay taxes to the river district and this is the most important thing they can do and they are dragging their feet.”

That may be changing under the new leadership of Mueller, who took over in December.

“I was specifically requested by the board to lead that charge on behalf of the district, so I think yes, the discussions are reinvigorated and we feel reasonably optimistic about it,” Mueller said. “And we appreciate the willingness of Xcel to sit down and have discussions with us.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Two companies contact the Dolores Water Conservancy District on potential pump-back hydroelectric power facility at McPhee Reservoir

Pumped storage hydro electric.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Pump-back storage systems utilize two reservoirs at different elevations. To generate power, water is released from the upper reservoir to the lower, powering a turbine on the way down that is connected to the grid.

In 2014, the Dolores Water Conservancy District released an investor’s memorandum on the potential for a project at Plateau Creek to inform energy companies and investors of the opportunity. The canyon’s steep vertical drop in a short distance makes it a good location.

District General Manager Mike Preston, speaking at Thursday’s board meeting, described pump-back storage plant idea as giant battery that is part of a green energy power grid.

When electric prices are high, the water is released from the upper reservoir through a turbine, and the power is sold to the grid to meet demand. When electric prices are low, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir through a tunnel, recharging the battery.

Preston recently toured the Plateau Creek site by plane with Carl Borquist, president of Absaroka Energy, of Montana. The company proposed to build a pump-back hydroelectric facility at Gordon Butte, northwest of Billings, Montana…

The Dolores Water Conservancy District holds the water rights for the potential Plateau Creek project, estimated to cost $1 billion, based on the 2014 study. It would require environmental reviews and approval because it would be on San Juan National Forest land. McPhee could be used as the lower reservoir, with a small reservoir built above Plateau Canyon.

The project needs investors before it could get off the ground, but once online, it would generate an estimated $100 million per year in electricity sales. As the holder of the water rights, the district could benefit financially from the deal.

“We have the site, and if we could realize a revenue stream, it would help the district financially,” Preston said.

Shortly after Absaroka Energy’s visit, the district received a letter from Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy, based in Boise, Idaho, expressing interest in exploring a pump-back storage system at McPhee.

“We recently developed a concept for this site that the district may not have considered before, one which we believe would have greater viability than the prior concept,” he stated. “We believe that the timing for this particular project is promising.”

Pump-back hydroelectric storage is considered a nonconsumptive, green energy power source. Energy companies are potential investors in hydro projects as they expand their portfolios to include green energy. They need supplemental sources to meet demand when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District had obtained a preliminary permit for a facility at Plateau Creek from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it was not renewed in 2016 because the project had not moved forward enough.

A revolution in hydropower makes waves in rural Colorado — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

Big dams were the hydro giants of yesteryear. The future of hydropower is small.

This story is a part of the ongoing Back 40 series, where HCN reporters look at national trends and their impacts close to home.

On the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, winter opens the door to spring as fruit tree buds flit away and green shoots emerge from their slumber — that fish-dark sound of slow-moving water returns to the hillsides. Moving water is how the arid West has been brought to bear fruit. Now people are eyeing the irrigation works of the past as clean electricity sources for the future.

Around three thousand years ago the San Pedro people brought water from nearby streams to maize fields near modern-day Tucson, Arizona. As waves of European settlers pushed west they introduced different technologies to irrigate the thirsty land. Beginning in 1909, canal projects in the Uncompahgre Valley, of southwest Colorado, moved water from the mighty Rockies, greening the arid lands below. For a century these canals made agriculture possible in the high desert. But only in the last five years have they started to bring electricity to the communities of Delta and Montrose.

The big hydroelectric dams of the 20th century put the rivers of the West under their imposing concrete thumbs, but their unintended consequences have water managers and entrepreneurs thinking the future of hydroelectric power is small. Advances in technology, federal reforms and Colorado’s ideal geography and friendly policies are paving the way for a new wave of small hydropower projects in the state that could be the template for a new generation of hydroelectric power.

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In Montrose, Colorado, in the shadows of the Elk and San Juan mountain ranges, five small hydroelectric facilities are now incorporated into a canal system that delivers water to more than 83,000 acres of farmland for the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. The hydroelectric generators combine a diversion from the canal with metal gates and a large metal pipe that carries water into what from the outside looks like an average metal storage shed. Inside the shed the deafening drone of the turbine equipment hums along during the seven months of the year when water moves through these irrigation canals.

One of the major selling points of this technology is that it takes advantage of the power generating potential of water that is already moving through man-made infrastructure. “It’s the same amount of water as if (the turbines) weren’t there,” says Steve Anderson, who was born about 30 miles from Montrose and is following in his father’s footsteps as the manager of the UVWUA. Anderson, who is in his sixties, wears overalls, a long-sleeved maroon shirt and a black baseball hat and “loves showing off our hydros.” He says that if for some reason the hydroelectric facilities stopped working, it wouldn’t affect the delivery of irrigation water that the surrounding communities depend on. For the stakeholders in the irrigation association, the projects have become a source of income without any sacrifice of water delivery.

Projects like the hydroelectric facilities in Montrose are popping up across the West — in part thanks to a lobbying effort by hydroelectric interests and the advocacy group American Rivers. These groups came together in support of a 2013 bill, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, which passed the house by a unanimous vote and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The bill encourages new projects by lessening the regulatory and permitting hurdles for hydroelectric installations. In the past small projects like these were subject to a lengthy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting process that, according to small hydro advocate Kurt Johnson, could be more expensive than the hydroelectric hardware itself. He says the new law is a “game changing improvement” for developing these projects on private water infrastructure.

The Montrose hydroelectric facilites, which are part of a Bureau of Reclamation water system, have different permitting requirements. Anderson says that the permits for their hydro projects went through in about two months and were a simple process because they only affect man-made infrastructure.

Small hydroelectric installations, like the ones in Montrose, hit a sweet spot for water managers and conservationists. These so-called conduit hydropower projects don’t inherently disrupt natural river systems and instead use existing off-stream infrastructure. Conduit hydropower can take different forms, from diversion and turbine systems on irrigation canals to micro-hydro installations that are inserted in the place of pressure-reducing valves, which are a necessary and ubiquitous component of water delivery and treatment infrastructure. Kelly Catlett, with the advocacy group Hydropower Reform Coalition, says that from an ecosystem and watershed health standpoint the only real worries are making sure that diversion points from rivers have proper fish screens and that new conduit hydropower projects aren’t used to justify larger diversions of water. Catlett says that as long as those issues are addressed, “this is one area a lot of us can agree on and be supportive of.”

But not all of the small hydro projects promoted by the 2013 law hit this sweet spot, because the law also allows the electrification of on-stream dams that don’t already have turbines. American Rivers, which lobbied for the bill but also promotes the removal of some dams, got pushback in the conservation community for supporting the bill. Matt Rice, the program director for American Rivers in the Colorado Basin, says updating old dams and adding energy producing turbines can ultimately help improve ecosystem conditions like dissolved oxygen and stream flow, and in some cases prevent the building of additional dams on free-flowing rivers. Other river advocates see the powering of unpowered dams as a potential roadblock to restoration. Eric Wesselman, the executive director of the California-based advocacy group Friends of the River, says he’s concerned about expedited reviews of small hydropower projects because “the influence of power production could delay dam removal in the future.”

The combination of extensive irrigation works, mountainous terrain and friendly state policies make Colorado an epicenter for the growth of small hydroelectric projects in the United States. The state is second only to California in small hydro installations and is pushing to expand in the future. Colorado Energy Office analyst Samantha Reifer says that the state is promoting small hydro projects through a combination of outreach, assistance with navigating regulatory barriers and low-interest finance programs. “Hydropower isn’t people’s first idea because in the past it’s been giant dams,” Reifer says. “We are working to raise awareness that this is an opportunity on existing water infrastructure.”

Kurt Johnson has been at the forefront of lobbying for regulatory reform, advising Colorado on hydropower policies, and facilitating small hydropower projects as the president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association and CEO of Telluride Energy. He foresees the future of hydropower being in smaller installations more akin to rooftop solar than the large dams of the past. “It’s a political slam dunk because the industry and the environment are hand-in-hand,” Johnson says.

Small hydropower is not a silver bullet to sate our energy appetite. But in places like Montrose and Delta counties it is already playing an important role. The five hydropower projects of the UVWUA are generating about half a million dollars of annual profit for the water users association, which it uses to keep rates low and reinvest in improving water infrastructure. The facilities, which the association is eyeing to add to in the future, account for about 13 percent of the power used by the roughly 70,000 people served by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association. “An old cowboy once told me every blade of grass is important,” Anderson says. “Well, every electron is, too.”

@WaterLawReview: A Dam Fine Mess (Part I) — Advocates of Decommissioning Glen Canyon Need to Reckon with the All-Mighty Law of the River

Glen Canyon Dam

Click here to read the post from the University of Denver Water Law Review (Kristina Ellis). Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past few years, voices calling for the removal of one of the West’s biggest reservoirs have gotten louder. And while proponents—including scientists, activists, journalists, and government officials—have cited everything from ecology to economics in their quest to decommission Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona and restore that part of the Colorado River, very little has been said about the impacts such an action would have on the house-of-cards-like network of compacts, agreements, and obligations comprising the “The Law of the River.

While many of the arguments made by proponents are worth discussion in this era of changing climates and changing values, if they want to make any progress turning this dream into a reality, they will first have to solve the Gordian knot of legal issues revolving around the Colorado Compact…

There are fifteen dams on the main stem of the Colorado River, with hundreds more on its many tributaries. Two of these dams, the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam, hold back the nation’s two largest two reservoirs. The Glen Canyon Dam (the “Dam”) was authorized in 1956 under the Colorado Storage Act for storage and hydroelectric power, turning the once wild and flowing Colorado River into the placid Lake Powell. As part of the aforementioned agreements, the Upper Basin has an obligation to deliver a certain amount of water from its basin to the Lower Basin. Instead of relying on the natural flow of the river, this reservoir serves as a water savings account for the Upper Basin so they can store up water in wet years to make sure they meet their delivery obligations to the Lower Basin…

Articles upon articles illustrate the environmental need for letting go of the Dam, lamenting at the natural wonders lost by the plugging up of the Colorado River. One of the biggest voices calling for the dismantling of the Dam is the former Bureau of Reclamation head Daniel Beard. Beard calls the dam a “deadbeat dam,” the title of his book calling for the dismantling of dams across America. Beard writes that instead of viewing the current drought conditions and the decreased levels of both Lake Mead and Lake Powell as a doom-and-gloom situation, that the Bureau of Reclamation and the politicians for each state should look at the situation as a chance for innovative thinking. As part of this strategy, Beard calls for the removal of Glen Canyon Dam and the draining of Lake Powell: let the Colorado River fill up Lake Mead instead bypassing the no longer useful Lake Powell.

While all of these issues are worth discussing in regard to the Glen Canyon Dam coming down or being decommissioned, one thing all of these articles and books seem to overlook is the very real legal obstacles to such a major action. This includes the effect the lack of a reservoir would have on the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Additionally, removing or decommissioning the dam would likely require an impossible amount of political will in Congress. Currently the Glen Canyon Dam produces 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours annually, supplying electricity to nearly six million customers throughout the West, and brings millions of tourists who pump nearly four hundred million dollars into the region each year. But if Congress did decide to one day decommission or tear down the Glen Canyon Dam, the legal ramifications of such a decision would need to be discussed before action could be taken. This article will discuss these ramifications through the perspective of amending the Colorado River Compact of 1922…

If decommissioning or dismantling the Glen Canyon Dam occurs and the waters of the Colorado River are allowed to flow freely downstream, questions about the use and ownership of the water will surface. For example, questions may arise regarding how much water is being allowed to freely flow from one basin to the next and if that amount constitutes an over delivery by the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin based on the Compact numbers. Without a barrier or a way to pump water upstream if too much is delivered downstream, the Upper Basin, without Glen Canyon Dam, opens itself up to many legal risks. Both basins would then need to work out an agreement or a system to replenish the Upper Basin with water. Potential solutions could include a pumping system to deliver water back upstream, a series of new dams, the sharing of the Lake Mead reservoir, and/or a new distribution point between the two basins. Since creating a pumping system could become troublesome and cost millions of dollars, coupled with the call to remove dams from streams and rivers, one likely solution is to share the lower reservoir, which would then change the distribution point as listed in the Compact. In order to accomplish this, stakeholders using the Colorado River would need to amend The Law of the River in some manner. This could include amending the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which has not been amended in nearly one hundred years.